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OK, But Did You Really Ever Feel Like You Were In Your Comfort Zone?

I've had the idea for this graphic in mind for a little while now, and I finally got around to making it the other day. Shortly after, I realised I'd covered this topic about a half dozen times on facebook over the years already.

I suppose the reason for that is that so much of what goes around on social media seems to be on rotation, whether by the same people or new people. Therefore, if you do an image search on "comfort zone", you'll see a bunch of similar images. Similar to each other, that is. Mine is different.

You know the images I'm thinking of, right?
"Here's your comfort zone, now here's where all the magic happens"... variations on that theme. Nothing happens without stepping outside your comfort zone, apparently.

I don't think that's quite right.
For one thing, I don't think people are comfortable to begin with.
For another thing, a lot of these graphics suggest there's "your comfort zone" and then there's "outside the comfort zone" which is where good things happen. For a lot of people, that sounds more like "the panic zone", am I right?

Anyway check out my improved version below.

Like I touched on earlier... it seems to me that a lot of people are confusing "the comfort zone" for something more like "the stagnation zone". When you're frustrated and you feel like you're not getting anywhere and something needs to change... that's not comfort, right?

So, we're actually more comfortable doing something than doing nothing.
But we also do have a quite sensible level of apprehension about feeling overwhelmed and out of our depth, which is what often does keep us stagnant. To my way of thinking, this is why the suggestion that you need to get out of your comfort zone doesn't help.

What I'm trying to suggest is that there's a lot of productive middle ground between doing nothing, and being stressed out trying to do everything all at once, before you're ready for it.

So, your comfort zone actually is doing something.

The progress zone is doing something a little more meaningful, a little more consistently.

In my graphic, I deliberately tried to suggest that it’s a bit of blur and the comfort & progress zones kind of overlap, but to keep making progress you want to get comfortable with doing more, and do more of what you're comfortable with.

What I suggest here though is, if you aint pushing forward, you're going to slip backward. Always be looking to be comfortable with pushing further into the progress zone. What I've attempted to describe before is standing right in the middle of that zone, taking a step forward to do what it takes to make further progress, and then the whole bubble shifts with you so that that's now where you're comfortable, until it's time to take another step forward.

What you'll also notice is a strong barrier between the progress zone and the danger zone. This is for two reasons;

One, you don’t need to do more than you’re comfortable with before you’re comfortable with it.
Two, for a lot of us sometimes once we’re started we need to exercise a little restraint before we start pushing too hard and risk burning out. Especially if we have a history of taking a good thing like pursuing an interest in exercise and practicing mindful eating habits, and taking that to a destructive extreme.

Specific Goals Require Specific Approaches

More specific goals require more specific actions, approaches, and strategies.

What most people want is some variation on the theme of get stronger, build muscle, lose fat, enjoy what you're doing and feel good about yourself.

That's a fine goal well worth pursuing. But it is actually quite a generic goal. Any decent strength based program with enough of the good stuff will take you a long way towards it. Even a merely half-decent program will take you a long way compared to being inactive.

CONSISTENCY matters though.

If you consistently train from 4 to 6 times per week, you can expect more consistent progress, and to progress further in less time. You'll have a higher energy requirement and more margin for variance as well.

If you intend to train 4 times a week but more often only make it a couple of times... you can't expect the same level or consistency of progress, or to have as high an energy requirement or margin for variance.

So... my observations:

1. People often want to produce a drastic change in condition and appearance without wanting to commit to the intention of turning up consistently enough, &/or working to a suitable strategy. AKA "here's what I want to do and how often I'm prepared to do it, but I won't even do that unless you promise me I'll lose this amount of weight within this amount of time".

In which case... life's not like that.

You need to decide that you're going to do what it actually takes, as often as it actually takes. Otherwise go find someone else who's desperate enough for your money to put up with your shit, you get me?

2. People sometimes have the INTENTION of doing what it takes as often as it takes, but for various reasons it doesn't just doesn't pan out that they're quite so consistent quite so often.

In which case... life's like that sometimes.

Even if you're not quite able to see those changes in condition and appearance, showing up when you can is still of benefit, and is still setting you up for the best chance of good health and a good quality of life as you get older.

Therefore it's better to feel good about what you are doing than to beat yourself up for not doing more. Otherwise you only end up doing less, am I right?

That said though... don't be one of these people who wants and sulks about not being able to have the outcome, when the only thing stopping them is that they simply refuse to adopt the strategy and work consistently towards it.


Appropriate Total Calories is STILL the most important thing.

Nothing is more important than "Appropriate Total Calories".

Or more accurately, "Appropriate Total Calories With Adequate Protein".

Often and to this day you'll still see people suggesting or even insisting otherwise. It's not calories, it's food quality. It's paleo vs processed. It's inflammation, alkaline pH, whatever else.


It is Appropriate Total Calories first and foremost.

Very simple logic:
  • The appropriate & required amount of energy intake from whatever choices of foods is going to facilitate better performance and produce better condition than one quarter of that amount.
    That's obvious, surely?
  • The appropriate & required amount of energy intake from whatever choices of foods is going to facilitate better improvements in condition than twice that amount, if you're NOT deliberately "bulking" and deluding yourself that that's an improvement in condition.
    Again that's obvious, surely?
So you could argue that "2000 calories of these foods will not produce the same result as 2000 calories of those foods", but it'd be a hell of a lot more similar than 2000 calories of anything vs 1000 or 3000 calories of anything else. Right?

Now though.

WITHIN that total energy intake, you can make wise strategic choices in the interests of not being deficient in required nutrients, and perhaps also increased Thermal Effect Of Food via higher protein and fibre.

You should also consider any choice that facilitates good & enjoyable, prolonged adherence to the program a wise strategic choice. If that's a chocolate biscuit at supper time so be it.

If total calories are optimal relevant to requirements (or at least, somewhere within an "adequate but not excessive" range), protein is adequate to optimal, fiber is sufficient... if you're including cereal grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts &/or legumes you're likely not deficient in any micronutrients and you therefore have a healthful diet that will facilitate good performance and condition as an adaptation to a good training program.

Of what else there is that people talk about as being "as or more important"... it varies from complete nonsense (paleo, alkalinity, and so on) to stuff that may matter but is impractical to attempt to micromanage, and is likely an unproductive distraction from what is more practical and more productive to focus upon, as described above.

One diet is as good or as bad as any other.

All things being equal people should see similar if not identical results from any diet.

By "all things" we mean total cals, protein, fibre, and not deficient in any nutrients. If those are matched the results are similar.
  • Over the short term people often lose weight on approaches based on exclusion of food types rather than a focus on total calories or macro targets, but
  • It's usually more a drop in water retention than fat loss, and
  • Repeated attempts at diets which restrict to or result in insufficient calorie intake eventually become ineffectual even in the short term, and
  • Most people who do this stuff remain on a long term trajectory of greater weight gain, poorer relationship with & confidence around eating, with the likelihood of poorer long term health outcomes as well.

Vocal advocates of various dietary tribes on social media often boast of miraculous (and therefore dubious) initial results on various approaches, but... where are all the people from five years ago who should be telling us "see, I've stuck with paleo all this time and it has not steered me wrong". There seems to be very very few of them. Even the ones making their fortune from selling the idea seem to have migrated a few times to increasingly more restrictive diets over the years.

But I digress.

All things being equal, one choice of diet should be as effective as any other IF you can stick to it.

People have good initial results because they adhere well to the diet, because they have decided to believe there is a very good reason why this is the superior choice of diet. Often also they have decided that it makes them smarter and more virtuous than all the unclean masses still eating the foods they've sworn off too.

I wouldn't be so unkind as to suggest they're also people with a poor sense of individuality who's self esteem comes from fitting in well with a tribe rather than with appreciating their own identity and positive attributes.

Long term, they still end up fucked.
Arguably, more fucked than if they'd never dieted to begin with.

So. Is there an answer?
  • Adequate but not excessive total calories.
    Not so high that you replenish or add to whatever energy you have in fat stores, but not so little that your body slows down, conserves energy and prioritises fat stores.
  • From more of the foods that you enjoy and would have eaten anyway, plus some of the foods you make the effort to include for the sake of a balanced, inclusive, nutrient sound diet.
The reasons to believe this is the right approach are self explanatory. Anyone sustaining long term success in adhere to any set of eating habits that maintains an improved body condition is doing this, regardless of what it happens to look like or what label they slap on it.

They have an adequate but not excessive energy intake from the approach they believe is the best, or at least the best they can do.

YOUR reasons could also include the rejection of harmful diet culture, rejection of social conditioning and peer pressure to "be on a diet", and to live and feel the way you'd hope anyone you cared about would live and feel.

That's what I think anyway.

Have You Destroyed Your Metabolism With Restrictive Dieting?

This is the most common concern I hear from women when I do a consultation. They're on low calories, not really getting anywhere. Have had short lived success on even fewer calories on other programs before, but found it was unsustainable, made them miserable, and backfired long term leaving them in a state where they needed to continue to restrict just maintain a less lean condition that they started with.

BUT... when they've tried to entertain this notion of "eat more to weigh less" they just found that the scales started creeping up a little, panicked, and went back to what they were doing before.

Sounds familiar?

Here's the thing about eating more:

Food has weight of it's own.

Therefore... when you eat more, you might find that the scales tell you that you've gained weight, but really you haven't. You just have the weight of more food passing through the digestive system. Obviously we're talking about a few hundred grams or maybe a kg here and not several kilos. In people with a higher body fat percentage you also get much wider fluctuations in fluid retention which you wouldn't be aware of if you weren't in the habit of weighing yourself.

So... in the event that you happen to weigh in on a day when you're at the lightest end of the range that you fluctuate within, and then a week and a half later you happen to weigh in on a day that you're at the heaviest end of the range that you fluctuate within... that can be very confusing and misleading too.

So... you eat more food, and the weight of that food might be reflected on the scales. The energy sourced from that food (up to a certain point, anyway) is still of benefit to you. The energy sourced from carbohydrates is referred to as GLYCOGEN and this goes to the muscles to be used to power your next training session. If I remember this correctly from my text books, 1 gram of glycogen comes with 3 grams of water.

If that sounds like a bad thing, it isn't.

So what can happen is that you eat more, feel like you can train harder, feel a better over all sense of general well being... but the scale does not move at all in either direction. In this case... you'd expect at least the weight of the food, right? To my way of thinking in this case you've lost at least an equal amount of weight from body fat as you've added via "volume of food" and what has been made available to be stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles.

This is why you'll often have the experience where people's weight has not changed, but their body measurements, pants size or whatever else have decreased quite significantly. Energy is being stored in the muscles, put to good use at training, then replenished. A similar amount is being pulled from fat stores (likely for Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) and not being replenished, because the body has better things to do with that energy and the luxury of being able to do so.

Different people are in different circumstances and there's no "one size fits all" answer.

For significantly larger people of a higher body fat percentage who may have been active but are beginners as far as what we might call "actual training" goes... I'd suggest being less concerned with the scales, more concerned with establishing regular and appropriate eating habits as opposed to dieting, and enjoy working on improved proficiency at exercise and appreciating changes in how your clothes fit as your dimensions change.

For those who are quite active and more athletic, but just not as lean as they'd like to be despite attempting to stick to very low calories of... oh... lets say anything below 1500 calories per day... certainly your metabolism has adapted to manage the workload it is accustomed to on the energy provision it is accustomed to... but it is ruined? No.

If you've tentatively tried eating a little more without a change in fortunes, the situation is most likely that you still haven't increased by enough to allow your body to benefit from your efforts at training, rather than merely to cope.

So, ideally what we want is to build an appetite and build the confidence to work towards levels of fueling where we see improvements in performance at training, improvements in condition, and fat loss at a rate that means that you lose more weight from a reduction in body fat than you add from the increased volume of food passing through your digestive system and the weight of glycogen being sent to those muscles to make them look full & firm and capable of explosive power in the gym.

That's ideal, and it's not always so easy to do on a linear basis.

I happen to have a great protocol to facilitate this though.

Cliff note version of how I suggest you consider going about this.

  • Immediate / First Two Weeks: Come from whatever insufficient level of fueling you're at now, to something that's at least adequate.
  • Next Two Weeks: Increase to what should be a more optimal level of intake. You may see the scales creep up a little for reasons described above but try not to let it mess with your head too much.
  • The Following Two Weeks: return to merely adequate fueling, and you should find that you drop whatever "volume of food" weight gained the previous two weeks, and then a little (or ideally a more significant amount) more. 
  • And So On: So far we've only come to a conservative estimate of more optimal intake, but I usually find at this point the system is working well enough and people are feeling good enough that we're confident to try working to a more adventurous estimate of optimal, and so on until we find our true maximal level.
Not many people seem to have much of a grasp of this stuff. Most people will still tell you that when your body adapts to cope with high levels of activity on low levels of caloric intake, the only answer is to add even more activity &/or cut to even fewer calories. You already know that's impossible.


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